Leila Ahmed

Document Type


Publication Date

Fall 1981


One had assumed that it was well known that American history with respect to slavery and race was (apart from South Africa) uniquely racist, and that people from, for instance, Asia or the Middle East perceive human races, human complexions and their significances, in ways that differ profoundly from American perceptions and understandings of race. And so one had assumed too that at a feminist conference on racism, it would not be we non Western peoples who must unlearn our attitudes and speak of races in the terminology of the currently globally powerful and dominant Americans.

Sadly these proved unfounded assumptions, as one incident in particular brought home. An Indian who had come to America specifically to attend the NWSA Convention, shocked at being required to register for workshops according to her color, declared that she was not Colored. This was not taken for what it was, a refusal to define herself in the terminology developed from within a racist society but was taken as an inability on her part to recognize herself for what she was—to respond, that is, to the name with which Americans had named her.



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